City faces an anticipated $675 million shortfall
Elizabeth Chou, Daily News, Los Angeles
Jan. 15—A 4.5% pay raise scheduled for Los Angeles city firefighters would be delayed by 18 months, under a tentative labor agreement reached with the city in order to avoid potential layoffs or other cuts due to an anticipated $675 million shortfall in the city budget.
The leadership of the United Firefighters of Los Angeles City, which represents more than 3,200 city firefighters, has agreed to defer the raise that was scheduled to begin this summer, for 18 months.
This comes after the leadership of the Coalition of L.A. City Unions, representing more than 20,000 civilian city employees, have also agreed to delay pay increases scheduled this year.
In both instances, the agreements still need to be voted upon and ratified by the unions’ membership, before they could go into effect.
If approved, these agreements would put a hold on proposed layoffs for firefighters, paramedics and civilian city workers. But with layoffs still looming for police officers, some city leaders are now calling on the officers’ union to delay a raise set to go into effect in a few days.
In recent months, city labor unions have been urged to re-open labor negotiations as the city’s anticipated revenues plunge due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, which has led to public health orders shutting down businesses and other activity in an effort to prevent the spread of the virus.
Hundreds of layoffs, as well as furloughs, continue to be under serious consideration by city leaders, absent any renegotiated labor contract terms. And for a time, city employee unions had held off on delaying raises, with the hope that the city would emerge sooner from novel coronavirus pandemic and move into a recovery from the devastating effects it has had on the economy.
Some city leaders, including Mayor Eric Garcetti, had also placed some hope on aid coming from federal lawmakers through stimulus bills that have yet to materialize. Others, however, including some City Council members, did not share that hope.
In recent weeks, Los Angeles has become the epicenter of COVID-19 cases and deaths, making a recovery even less likely for the near future, even despite the rolling out of vaccines throughout the region.
Garcetti and Council President Nury Martinez confirmed the tentative agreements Thursday.
“We have reached a tentative agreement with UFLAC that, along with the deals we reached with civilian unions this week, will help us avoid harmful layoffs and deep service cuts,” Garcetti said. “I’m grateful for their collaboration, and I hope other bargaining units follow this example and come to the table during this difficult moment.”
Martinez also expressed gratitude to the unions that came to the table to negotiate already agreed-upon terms in their labor contracts.
“These dedicated individuals continue to serve the public and put the people of Los Angeles ahead of their paychecks and all else. We owe them our deepest gratitude,” she said.
The firefighter union’s president, Freddy Escobar, said their members, firefighters and paramedics, are among those who “see this devastation every single day.”
“LAFD firefighters are proud to reach a tentative agreement that is fair to our members and will help our city recover from this unprecedented human and financial crisis,” he said.
Escobar also said that the agreement would “maintain essential LAFD resources and ensure that the people of Los Angeles will continue to receive the first class lifesaving services that they expect and deserve.”
The tentative agreement terms also including a promise not to do “brownouts,” which is when firefighting resources are shutdown on a rotating basis, making them unavailable to respond to other firefighters in the field. Also among the terms are some special provisions for employees who retire prior to the end of 2022, and the extension of the agreement itself by 24 months, until June 30, 2024.
Layoffs are still being considered for the Los Angeles Police Department, but leadership for the Los Angeles Police Protective League, which represents nearly 10,000 sworn officers, have argued that they should not be called on to make changes to their labor agreement with the city. Officers are receiving are scheduled to receive a 3.25% raise on Jan. 17, or in three days.
LAPPL union officials have argued that police officers already took financial hits when overtime was cut last July, and when the proposed LAPD budget was reduced by $150 million.
Police union president, Craig Lally, said in statement Thursday that the pay increase scheduled to go into effect this month “will finally bring us to parity with our public safety counterparts.”
He said that if the raise is delayed, the effect on their members would be “far in excess of what any other city employee group has been asked to sacrifice.”
However, some city leaders have pushed back on this argument. Councilman Mike Bonin was among those who earlier called for police officer raises to be postponed, and he has argued that the $150 million reduction to the department’s budget is less than those made to other departments.
This year’s police department budget is the same as last year’s, he said, but neighborhood patrols have been cut in order to accommodate for the scheduled raises.
In a recent bulletin on his district website, Bonin wrote that whether layoffs in the LAPD happens is a “choice” being made by the union.
“The police union is choosing to cut neighborhood safety, and is choosing to force hundreds of its own members into unemployment,” he argued.
Because the union has refused entreaties to re-open negotiations to find savings within the contract, “the only way the LAPD, by far the city’s largest department, can respond to the budget crisis is through massive layoffs.”
City leaders and management officials have argued that layoffs are the main options left to them, outside of renegotiating contract terms, to find savings in budgets that are predominantly made up of employee costs.
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